Briedis | bit.ly/cfbh_briedisKārlis Lobe, 1963—David Guild, 1993

1 | Choosing a career in the military

It was likely not without possibility that Briedis' choice of a military career was determined by the fact that it was difficult to foresee any form of further education given the length of time and the greater expenses incurred. It is not clear whether he would have learned anything at all of military life, had it not been for the unexpected incident with the two monks. Even had it not caused him such deep disillusionment, one might have thought that such incidents were not uncommon elsewhere. Surely, he who was in the habit of weighing everything up, would have taken this into account and decided that the harshness of military life befitted it more for keeping a man's moral nature on a higher plane than civilian life. He took to military life from the very beginning not as a means for something else but as an end in itself, striving to bury himself in it fully.

Fr. Briedis had chosen the harshest school and the most difficult profession, a profession which might demand of him his life. It was also very badly rewarded and was at that time still frivolously censured by so-called progressive society.

Until the 1910 reform, the training of the infantry officer took place in schools of two types—the military school and the junker school. The first only accepted pupils from the cadet corps and they held out for those who completed them their own official privileges in the service; the second was of the three-or two-year type. The two-year type accepted the graduates of different types of middle school or those who had served in military units—all after an entrance exam. At the two year Vladimir Junker School which in 1910 was renamed a military academy and was one of 6  the older and more noteworthy ones, Briedis passed the entrance exam in the autumn of 1907.

"Fate also led me in 1908 to the Vladimir Military Academy," said A. Skurbe, "where on joining the first course I was allotted to the 3rd company." Briedis had finished the first course, with very good grades, he had also gained the confidence of the authorities because of his energy and military bearing. The post of senior-sergeant in the military academy was not merely an honorary one. On to his shoulders fell the responsibility for the upbringing of the cadets, especially in their free time, at morning inspection, at meal-times and at evening retreat.

"In the academy there were four senior-sergeants in all. Briedis stood out among their midst because of his rapidity of movement, ready wit, quick thinking and action. Of medium height and thin, he always dressed neatly and irreproachably. He gave his orders and commands in a loud, clear voice, and with great precision. He never went back on his orders, was not friendly to the cadets, but was pleasant, fair and just to all. He rarely took leave, but diligently studied and prepared his military duties. Personally I saw him only three or four times in the Bolshoi Theatre[1] at ballet performances and three times in the New Circus at world wrestling contests. From all this one might conclude that Briedis had set as his first goal the completion of the Military Academy and to this he devoted all his free time. When I met him on his own, handing out writing materials to the cadets, he looked at my name on the roll and asked curtly in Latvian: "Latvian?" On my replying he just as briefly responded: "Latvians need to study hard and finish military school well, otherwise we'll not get far." I was prepared for many more questions, but at that moment the class inspector came in and we broke off our conversation.

"At Christmas it became known that the half-yearly tests had been passed in first place both by senior-sergeant N. of the 1. Company and senior-sergeant Briedis of 2. Company with similar marks. The school talked animatedly about this rare coincidence, and so far as I was able to see the cadets would willingly have seen the first place go to Briedis. As a Latvian, this also 7  interested me, for a Latvian Jāzeps Baško who was in 3. Company with me took first place in the first course half-yearly exam. At that time 6 Latvians in all attended the Vladimir Military Academy, and they all graduated as sergeants or corporals. At my graduation J. Baško finished second on our class.

"When I met Briedis that year after Christmas and wished him a happy new year, I congratulated him on his success in the tests. Briedis as usual answered sarcastically: 'We have many more vērsts[2] of macaroni to consume (breakfast every day was macaroni and rissoles[3], and the main thing is that firing requires a lot of powder.' In his expression was a certain marked self-confidence and determination, and one could appreciate that he could get his hands on the requisite powder. Baško and I also talked about Briedis' success. He said that he happened to hear Briedis' answers in a tutorial on military geography. Briedis answered all the questions brilliantly and had sketched out the whole plan of a railway junction on the blackboard. The tutor had spoken to Briedis and said that his answer was worth the top mark. Next Baško had said: 'If you want to remain in the top spots in military academy, then, just like Briedis, you will have to forswear leave.' It must be admitted that Briedis' efforts also left a good impression on us, and we too gave up one other leave period so as to prepare ourselves better for the subject tests.

"As senior-sergeant Briedis was rather independent but in case of need where his subordinates were concerned he would step in.

"There were cases in tactical field training when Briedis would show particular inventiveness. In two-sided battalion manoeuvres his scouts had to mark that a bridge over a swampy river had been blown up. This was usually marked by a petard[4] when the enemy approached. Briedis on his own initiative placed the petard charge in a tin box which enhanced the explosion, and broke up the bridge for real. I know only that we foot soldiers crossed the river on logs which had been thrown in, but the guards squadron could not get over—it had to take the long way round.

"There were also surprises proposed by Briedis in night exercises. In all tactical training the cadets in the senior course were designated as commanders so that they would have practice in solving problems. 8  The assignments were set by the school's officers, participating as observers and organisers. On one night exercise Briedis set his own scout to break through the 'enemy' defence line and link up his telephone line to the opponents' telephone exchange. The scout managed to do this. In the middle of the night Briedis passed the 'enemy' false orders by telephone to leave the defences and form up on the left flank and continue the advance from there. The 'enemy' defenders, without verifying the order, began to move in the indicated direction. Briedis with his company now suddenly attacked and took the 'enemy' units prisoner."

"Even more clearly, I remember one night exercise in which I myself took part. The enemy units had managed to occupy a defensive position and were holding a railway station and crossroads. Briedis commanded the attacking company. At night he had the area around the railway station continually illuminated with flares and fired on it sporadically, but abstained from any other activity. Complete silence was to be observed in the area of the crossroads and in the areas in between. The enemy was convinced that only a demonstration was taking place at the station and kept all his reserves in the vicinity of the crossroads. Dawn had not yet broken when Briedis with his whole company attacked the railway station, occupied it and dug themselves in along the railway embankment. The staff captain who was running the night exercise, declared the station had been captured and also that the company defending the crossroads would have to retreat because its flank and rear were under fire from the railway embankment.


[1]"Lielais teātris"or "Great (Bolshoi) Theater"—there were two theaters each in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the "Great" for opera and ballet and the "Lesser" for plays.
[2]versts, R. versta was a measure of length used before the Revolution: it approximates to a kilometre.—D.G. (original footnote)
[3]Rissoles (rasols, Latvian) is a potato salad made with ham and peas. It is well-known as Olivier salad, in Russian, салат Оливье, salat Olivye.
[4]This is probably some small explosive charge used for training purposes like the 'thunderflash', though the earlier petard and more recent variants are used by engineers for blowing holes in obstacles.—D.G. (original footnote)

Updated: November, 2017

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